In many works of art throughout history, female breasts have been featured prominently and in the nude. The symbolic meaning credited to the breast was usually associated with fertility and nourishment, both spiritual and physical, and in the wider sense, with life. Eroticism, nourishment, abundance, expression, feminine power, as well as feminine subservience, are different contradicting themes of the breast played out in time.
Different reiterating views of its importance and the way it should be displayed are used to reflect upon the views of women of the time and life in society in general. At times, it is near-worshipped as a sign of sexuality, or as a sign of nourishment. Other times it is restricted down, sometimes a sign of the inferiority of women or, on the contrary, as a sign of women's independence and their equality to men. Whether it is intentional or unintentional, how the breast is perceived throughout history is a direct reflection of the views of the time.
Legends about the breast have appeared in a variety of cultures, from Greek, Indian, to Native American myths, they all contain stories that involve biting a breast. For example, as an infant, Hercules was said to have gotten his extra-human strength from biting the breast of Hera. Other stories such as this can be seen as symbolic of an attack on Mother Nature or the earth goddess, and of man's ability to overcome her (Latteier, 1998, p. 146). Women with multiple sets of breasts are reoccurring themes in Western society, symbolizing fruitfulness. Artenis, the Greek goddess of Ephesus, is said to have had nearly twenty breasts on her chest. She symbolized the female nourishing power and fertility. The Minoan society on the island of Crete welcomed the breast openly. Women's clothing was designed to let the breasts show through and were placed in high social positions of power. Their breasts stood for material wealth, political power, and purity. The Minoans are given credit as the first people to use a corset. They wore bodices that laced below the bust, bracing and exposing the breasts (Winston, Website). Priestesses known as snake goddesses, were notorious for large breasts and snakes that coiled around their arm, would symbolize their power (Yalom, 1997, p. 15). Classic Greek society repressed femininity and acclaimed masculinity.
Women were encouraged to stay at home and were given only few rights. Only a special upper class of women known as the Hetaerae, were able to participate in social activities of men. The apodemos, a linen article worn by the Hetaerae, was considered to be the first brassiere (Silverman, Website). It, however, usually compressed the breasts instead of accentuating them, reflecting the anti-feminine views of the time.
With the rise of Christianity, the breasts and the flesh in general were discouraged from being exposed. With rounded bellies gaining popularity, the stomach was considered to be more of an important...